“Seasons of Glass and Iron,” by Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit World)
A wife who must wear down iron shoes meets a princess who must sit on a throne on a glass mountain. This story combines two fairy tales and attempts to make right the traditional violence against women often contained in them. Although well told, for me it tries just a little too hard to set things right. Still, I appreciate the attempt.
“Sabath Wine,” by Barbara Krasnoff (Clockwork Phoenix 5)
A boy and girl become friends, and their fathers love them despite everything. To say more would give away the plot. Krasnoff conjures up a strong setting for the story, New York a century ago, and he peoples it with characters effectively drawn with spare strokes. I wanted the story to go on for a couple of more paragraphs even though it reaches an effective and satisfying conclusion. While it’s a worthy contender, it’s not quite my favorite, but I’ll be fine if it wins a Nebula.
Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station | Hours Since the Last Patient Death: 0,” by Caroline M. Yoachim (Lightspeed)
In this choose-your-own-adventure story, you contract an illness and try to get it cared for. None of the choices work, and you die. The story is a long joke, and to my tastes, only some of the punch lines work. The rest were predictable, although I thought the continuation of one of the early choices could have led to something profound about the nature of fictional narrative. For me, this was one of the weaker stories, a lost opportunity.
“A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers,” by Alyssa Wong (Tor.com)
This breathtaking metaphorical tale of grief, guilt, and anger deserves an award. But I don’t think it’s speculative fiction, so I don’t think it deserves a Nebula. Sorry.
“Things With Beards,” by Sam J. Miller (Clarksworld)
A man with a beard begins to realize he’s not what he thinks he is, and he might not be the only one. This is a horror story, and a creepy one at that. Definitely a contender, but again, not quite my favorite.
“This Is Not a Wardrobe Door,” by A. Merc Rustad (Fireside Magazine)
This is a story about children in fairyland (or some realm like it) and the “real” world attempting to reunite. It might be suitable for children, but I think it’s a bit simplistic and predictable for adults.
“Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies,” by Brook Bolander (Uncanny)
A man rapes and kills a woman who is actually a goddess. This is the woman/goddess’s story, an angry story: a revenge story — with bullet points. Although skillfully written, it might resuscitate debate over whether it deserves nomination, not because it isn’t speculative fiction, since it is, but because it has little of a traditional story arc, and perhaps also for its content. The story reminds me of an early ancient Greek play, the kind told by choruses and actors in masks that are too weird for our time but which were praised in their day as a catharsis, and this story will be a catharsis for some readers. I think awards like the Nebula ought to expand the genre by offering some “politically incorrect” stories (incorrect to traditionalists, who seem to be sensitive types). But is it the best of the nominees? For me, that’s the only question, and I think this story’s raw emotion pushes it a little higher than a couple of others I also liked. It gets my vote.
— Sue Burke